Hasselblad introduces 'amazing' digital camera—for a mere $9,000

The Hasselblad X1D digital camera
Javier David | CNBC
The Hasselblad X1D digital camera

In a world of mobile cameras and selfie-obsessed amateur photo-takers, Hasselblad is making a bold proposition to consumers for a new kind of camera — but it's not intended for self portraits and it certainly won't come cheap.

This week, the Swedish-based luxury-camera maker introduced the world to the X1D, a compact 50-megapixel medium-format camera that it bills as a "game changer" in photography. The latest addition to Hasselblad's fleet is wireless enabled, lighter than the company's standard issue and comes equipped with GPS and high-definition video capabilities. It also costs nearly $9,000, a price Hasselblad says is justified by the X1D's mirrorless technology, something without precedent in a digital-medium-format device.

When compared with Hasselblad's other luxe models — its H5D version costs $45,000, a staggering sum for consumers used to shelling out only hundreds of dollars on a Nikon or Canon — the X1D's price tag is comparatively reasonable, Michael Hejtmanek, Hasselblad America's president, told CNBC in New York this week.

On the sideline of an event where Hasselblad demonstrated a pre-production model of the X1D for reporters, Hejtmanek called it an "amazing camera" whose functionality eclipses the relative convenience and ease of the ubiquitous smartphone camera.

The Hasselblad X1D digital camera
Javier David | CNBC
The Hasselblad X1D digital camera

The high-priced X1D could almost be considered an act of defiance against the grim economics of the camera industry. It's an audacious attempt by the 75-year-old company to generate interest in high-end cameras at a time when the market is under severe pressure from smartphone cameras.

Major camera manufacturers such as Sony, Canon and Nikon have reported drops in camera sales, mirroring a multiyear decline in worldwide shipments that only began moderating last year, according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association.

In 2015, camera sales plunged by nearly 20 percent from the year prior to 35.4 million sales — down from a 2010 peak of 121.5 million, CIPA data shows, and coinciding with the boom in smartphones. Meanwhile, global smartphone sales soared by more than 14 percent last year to more than 1.4 billion units, according to figures from research firm Gartner.

'It's not for everyone'

Hejtmanek acknowledged that smartphones were turning the general population into amateur shutterbugs, but downplayed the effect on high-end manufacturers like Hasselblad.

"This is a real camera for photography enthusiasts, so while you can with a camera phone shoot some great pictures, there are a lot of limitations to that," Hejtmanek told CNBC in New York this week. "You have a sensor in [the X1D] that is many many times larger than a camera phone. The difference is staggering."

Most digital single lens cameras, arguably the most affordable and popular devices on the market, cost only several hundred dollars. Yet they pale in comparison pricewise to the X1D.

"For someone that would have bought a high-end DSLR ... this camera is a huge step up in technology but only a small step in the price," Hejtmanek said. "It's much more camera for the dollar."

The X1D makes medium-term photography much more accessible to a broader market of photography enthusiasts … [including] high-end amateurs and enthusiasts who really care about image quality, and there are a lot of them out there," he added.

That said, would most of them be willing to pony up $9,000 for a camera — especially one whose 45-millimeter and 90-millimeter lenses cost more than $2,000 a piece?

"It's not for everyone," Hejtmanek said. "If someone says, 'Wow, that's such an expensive camera,' that's the same person who would say the Mercedes-Benz is such an expensive car, why would anyone buy one of those?"

The X1D is expected to hit stores in August.